In a significant revelation, newly discovered correspondence from the Vatican archives suggests that Pope Pius XII during World War II had access to detailed information from a trusted German Jesuit regarding the atrocities committed by the Nazis. This information includes reports of up to 6,000 Jews and Poles being gassed daily in German-occupied Poland. This revelation challenges the Holy See’s argument that it couldn’t confirm diplomatic reports of Nazi crimes to denounce them.
Historians have long debated Pope Pius XII’s record, with some supporters claiming he used quiet diplomacy to save Jewish lives while critics argue that he remained silent during the Holocaust.
The Unearthed Letter
The newly discovered documentation, published in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, includes a letter dated December 14, 1942, from a German Jesuit priest, the Rev. Lothar Koenig, to Pius’ secretary, the Rev. Robert Leiber. This letter, written in German, details the Nazi extermination of Jews and Poles in German-occupied Poland.
Specifics of the Letter
According to the letter, the Nazis were executing these mass killings in Rava Ruska, a town in pre-war Poland now located in Ukraine. The victims were then transported to the Belzec death camp. The Belzec memorial, which opened in 2004, records that as many as 3,500 Jews from Rava Ruska had already been sent to Belzec earlier in 1942.
Timing is Significant
The timing of Koenig’s letter is noteworthy, as it coincided with a period when Pius XII was receiving multiple diplomatic notes from British and Polish envoys reporting the deaths of up to one million Jews in Poland.
The Close Working Relationship
The fact that the letter came from a trusted fellow Jesuit and reached Pius’ office during a crucial period underscores its significance. Leiber had previously served as the pope’s aide during his tenure as the Vatican’s ambassador to Germany in the 1920s.
Documented Knowledge of Holocaust
Historian Giovanni Coco, who discovered the letter, emphasizes its importance, stating that it provides certainty that Pius XII was receiving precise and detailed information about the crimes against Jews from the German Catholic Church.
Concerns for Secrecy
It’s important to note that Koenig’s letter also urged the Holy See to keep this information confidential, as he feared for his own life and the safety of the resistance sources who had provided this intelligence.
Pope Pius XII’s legacy and the revelations from the newly opened Vatican archives will be discussed at a significant conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University next month. This conference boasts a diverse array of participants and sponsors, including the Vatican, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Research Institute, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, and the Israeli and U.S. embassies.
Preservation of Historical Documents
The letter, which had been found in the Vatican’s secretariat of state archives, was transferred to the Vatican’s main Apostolic Archives only in 2019. This move was necessitated by the disorganization and scattered nature of the secretariat of state’s papers, which included some of Pius’ documents stored in conditions that risked their preservation.
The discovery of this correspondence adds a new layer to the ongoing debate surrounding Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II and his relationship with information about the Holocaust. It has the potential to reshape historical perspectives on this contentious period.